One vital aspect of marketing is making sure your content gets in front of the right audience.
Publicity can be an effective and free way to get your product, service, or event in front of a large and attentive audience. But how can you get through to the right sources for quality press coverage?
Brands seeking publicity have 4 main options for getting their news in front of reporters who will write about them:
- Send out masses of unpersonalized cold emails
- Use a press release service
- Hire a public relations firm
- Send personalized pitches to journalists directly
With #1 and #2 — sending cold emails or using a press release service — your chances of achieving high-quality coverage are meager.
Hiring a reputable public relations firm (#3) is a promising option, but can also come with a high price tag that’s unsuitable for many small businesses.
Option #4, pitching to journalists directly, can be the best way to garner publicity for businesses who are not ready to invest in a reputable PR firm.
In this article, we’ll show you how to pitch to journalists directly using a personal approach based on tips from experts like Kim Harrison, founder of The Cutting Edge, a PR website, and Nick Harrison, blogger/journalist at LifeHacker. You’ll learn:
- How to prepare to approach journalists
- How to contact journalists and write your pitch
This approach helps you get your brand in front of the right audience and build the types of relationships with reporters that give you an “in” for your business’s future publicity campaigns.
1. How To Prepare To Approach Journalists
When pitching to journalists directly, it’s important to approach them in a manner that’s both intelligent and genuine.
The research tasks below will help you communicate what you’d like to achieve, prepare for an interview, and make a personal connection.
A. Define What You’re Hoping to Achieve.
The first step in preparing to approach news sources is to write down exactly what you’re hoping to achieve. It’s important to be well-prepared to communicate your request when the time comes.
If your brand is releasing a new product or expanding its current functions, then you might want a feature story in the tech section of the newspaper. Or, if your company is active in social causes, you might consider a human interest story in the lifestyle section.
For example, Google is adding a bilingual feature to its Google Assistant. The following story about its expansion recently appeared in the technology section of the Washington Post, providing valuable and free media coverage for Google
Nick Douglas of Lifehacker online magazine recommends finding 2–3 articles that are similar to what you’re hoping to have written about you.
Better yet, look for articles that could have benefited by featuring your brand.
Study the articles and note the following:
- Why do you like the articles?
- Why do you like the journalist?
- What do you like about the publication?
It’s important to identify why you’re drawn to each of the above. Is it because of the size of readership, type of audience, or something else?
Based on the articles you’ve studied, decide what type of press coverage you’d like to attain. For example are you hoping for a feature story about your brand? Or, perhaps you’re interested in a human interest story about your founder, or a straight news story about your product?
When you’re finished with this step, keep track of the articles you’ve chosen because you’ll need them for research point C below.
B. Understand Everything About Your Product and Its Industry.
Kim Harrison of the Cutting Edge suggests that you prepare a “cheat sheet” of pitch points so you can quickly offer factual information and share points of interest.
For example, if you’re seeking publicity for a new product release of the world’s best running shoes:
- Prepare a list of any company data that may be helpful in supporting your story.
- Gather data on your industry, such as how many pounds are lost every year thanks to running.
- Collect interesting pieces of information such as how many miles Americans run every day or how many people suffer injuries due to poor orthotics.
When you pitch to journalists, you’re hoping to be interviewed.
Journalists and reporters move quickly, so you should be prepared to interview at a moment’s notice. Write your cheat sheet before you begin pitching, so you’re prepared and available when a journalist shows interest.
C. Choose a Handful of Journalists to Approach.
Make a list of reporters that you’d like to pitch to, beginning with the writers of the articles you chose in section A above. Also, seek out journalists who regularly write about similar topics for publications that serve your target audience.
The next thing you need to do is get to know a bit about each journalist you want to contact.
Seek out reporters’ bylines to learn more about their background, and read a handful of their articles to find out what you like about their writing.
The goal is to familiarize yourself with each journalist and be able to tell them, genuinely, what you like about their writing. This step of research is crucial to your success.
A 2017 survey of survey of 1,500 U.S. and Canadian journalists found that the most significant factor that inspires journalists to pursue a story is when the person pitching displays knowledge of their past work, interests, and strengths.
The most significant factor that inspires journalists to pursue a story is when the person pitching displays knowledge of their past work, interests, and strengths.
The chart below shows that taking an interest in the journalists’ work is becoming more important every year.
Make notes about each journalist.
If you’re seeking broadcast coverage like television or radio, look for the names of program directors for the shows or departments you’d like to pitch to. Don’t spend your time trying to contact the on-air talent like broadcasters or show hosts, since they don’t choose the news.
2. How to Contact Journalists
In this section, we’ll show you how to craft your pitch and communicate with journalists.
A. Always Contact Journalists by Email.
The following chart from a State of the Media Report 2017 by Cison Media Management shows that more than 90% of journalists say they prefer to be pitched to by email.
Craft your pitch in writing and avoid phone calls or social media messaging, which run the risk of annoying the reporters you’re trying to reach.
B. Write Your Pitch.
The first email you send to a journalist should not include any attachments. Like most people, journalists are wary of viruses and careful about opening attachments from people they don’t know.
If your press release is short, you may want to include a copy/paste version of the entire release at the bottom of your email. If it’s longer, try including 2–3 paragraphs with a link to read more.
Now that you’ve done your research and chosen a handful of journalists to approach, here are some tips for writing the emails:
The first email you send should explain why you’re writing and what you’d like them to do for you. Make your subject line clear and specific without trying to “sell” yourself.
It’s also important to be sure that your email “from” address has your name in it.
Here are some tips to help you craft your pitch:
Remember that you’re a small business, not a publicist. Make that your strongest selling point. Instead of approaching journalists with a sales pitch or hard-sell copywriting, reach out with a more human side. Don’t try to be “salesy” or corporate. Be friendly, but get to the point.
- Keep your pitch focused on what you’re asking for. Be sure your content matches the subject of your email, and don’t go off-topic.
- Don’t open with “Hi, my name is…..” They’ve already seen your name in the “from” field of your email, so don’t repeat yourself. Get straight to the point in a timely manner.
- Refer back to the article you prepared — the one you wish you had been included in (from your earlier article research in Step #1). Let the reporter know how much you would like to have been in that article and why.
- Let him or her know what you like about the piece and their writing. Be specific, honest, and positive.
Here’s an example of what a pitch might look like. It’s direct, asks for a specific type of story, is to-the-point and tied to the subject line. It mentions the reporter’s work and closes with a call to action.
SUBJECT: New “Smart Shoe” changes lives — may I send a press release?
Our Company, XYZ Footwear, is launching the world’s first intelligent shoe on Friday.
The Smart Shoe adjusts to the arch of the wearer for support that allows him to run twice as fast as the average person. Plus, it sends motivational messages to the wearer if she begins to slow down the pace.
I saw the article you wrote on Nike’s purple shoe, and I loved the way you were able to take such a complex concept and make it simple enough for anyone to understand.
Your article 2 months ago about ABC’s Magic Software did the same thing. I never fully understood Magic Software until reading that piece, and I’ve been a fan of your work ever since.
I was hoping you could write a similar feature article about our Smart Shoe, to let people know that it can improve the wearers’ heart rates by 20% in less than 7 days.
Would it be alright if I send you a press release?
Thanks so much for your consideration,
Be honest when mentioning their work. If you didn’t actually read the article 2 months ago, then find a different approach.
Pitching Journalists Requires A Personal Approach
Now that you understand how to prepare and pitch, you’re ready to begin building relationships with reporters. Be sure to choose journalists based on their writing, genre, or publication, and always seek out sources that serve your target audience.
This method takes longer than blasting out 1,000 random emails, but the results are worth your efforts.
If, at this point, you’re still considering sending ineffective bulk emails or using a mass press release service to get publicity, keep this in mind: The tips above are being used by other brands who are developing real connections that grow stronger over the course of time.
Your brand deserves the same quality press today and in the future.